A symbolic passing of the torch was a smidgeon from taking place with 6:29 left Thursday night in KeyBank Arena.
Villanova senior guard Josh Hart, the best player on the nation's best team, stole a Mount St. Mary's inbounds pass and whipped it to freshman backup Donte DiVincenzo for a breakaway.
DiVincenzo soared for the dunk. And blew it.
Then, with 1:55 to play, he did it again.
The clanks were rare mistakes for DiVincenzo in an otherwise fabulous breakout performance. He could laugh at himself, too, because Villanova stomped The Mount, 76-56.
"I have no problem with that at all, none" Villanova coach Jay Wright said with a grin. "He's one of our best dunkers. ... It's one of those things a freshman does."
DiVincenzo recorded his first college double-double, posting team-highs with 21 points and 13 rebounds. No other Wildcat had more than six rebounds. He added two assists and a steal.
Had he pounded home those botched dunks, he would have made 11 of his 15 shots.
"I just had a knack for the ball tonight," DiVincenzo said.
If fans didn't realize what Wright meant a couple months ago when he dared to compare DiVincenzo to Hart, then they should know now.
A broken right foot ended DiVincenzo's 2015-16 season after eight games, allowing him to redshirt while sitting on the bench through Villanova's title run. He started one game this year but showed Thursday how much he can mean to helping Villanova remain dominant.
Hart is the Big East Player of the Year and a Naismith Award finalist, yet DiVincenzo was the one who pulled the Wildcats through. Hart picked up his second foul early and headed to the bench.
DiVincenzo's first-half performance helped keep the Wildcats above water through a first half that had Wright wondering if his top-seeded team would become the first in NCAA Tournament history to lose to a 16th seed.
The pesky Mountaineers swatted shots and collected enough rebounds to hold the defending champs scoreless until DiVincenzo hit a jump shot 6:06 into the game. The Mountaineers trailed by a measly point at halftime.
"My job off the bench is just to bring to energy, focus on defending and rebounding," DiVincenzo said.
DiVincenzo went into the game averaging 3.5 rebounds but collected eight in the first half alone.
"He's just a freshman, but I love his confidence," Wright said. "I love his aggressiveness.
"He was huge."
My favorite players to watch from Thursday's action at KeyBank Center ...
Guard: DiVincenzo, for the reasons mentioned above. I wanted to go with Mount St. Mary's point guard Junior Robinson here, but nine minutes into the second half he was stuck on three points.
Guard: Wisconsin senior Bronson Koenig broke the school record and tied the arena record with eight three-pointers against Virginia Tech. He shot 47 percent behind the arc and finished with a game-high 28 points with three rebounds and three assists. Niagara's Alvin Young first made eight three-pointers here versus Canisius in February 1999.
Forward: West Virginia freshman Lamont West scored 15 points in 11 minutes off the bench. He made six of his seven shots. West Virginia outscored Bucknell by 11 points when he was on the floor.
Forward: West Virginia senior Nathan Adrian and his gorgeous, flowing locks scored only 12 points but grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds, four offensive. Adrian blocked three shots.
Center: Bucknell junior Nana Foulland. The Patriot League MVP and defensive player of the year had 18 points, seven rebounds and three blocks. But denying West Virginia a couple of its nine offensive rebounds in the second half might have made the difference.
Virginia Tech guard Justin Bibbs converted two four-point plays, one in each half.
Bibbs took only three shots and finished with those eight rare points.
Big if true
Bucknell's band didn't make the trip to Buffalo. So the musicians from Lancaster High filled in on the university's KeyBank Center baseline.
The proxies didn't head back to Lewisburg, Pa., with the team, though.
As they say in Lancaster: "Once a Legend, always a Legend."
Bigger if untrue
One of the textbooks I use for my sports journalism class at Canisius College instructs students to call them "Coach" instead of by their first names.
Coaches are people, glorified phys-ed teachers, really. They aren't judges or doctors or bishops. They are Lindy, Rex, Scotty and Marv.
But get a load of Princeton, which refers to its guy as Franklin C. Cappon-Edward C. Green '40 head coach Mitch Henderson. You see, the Franklin C. Cappon-Edward C. Green '40 endowment was established in 1984 to fund the basketball coach's salary.
I wonder how much better Western New York Basketball would be if one of the Big 4 schools started the Tikki Tikki Tembo-no Sa Rembo-chari Bari Ruchi-pip Peri Pembo endowment.
I wanted to get power rankings from USA Today sports writer and former Golden Griffin mascot Erik Brady, but he said he didn't have a chance to see them all. So here is my mascot poll:
- Mount St. Mary's Emmit S. Burg dominated the "Bust a Move" dance-off over Will D. Cat.
- Bucky Badger, easily the most popular Bucky in the arena Thursday.
- Notre Dame Leprechaun.
- Princeton Tiger.
- West Virginia Mountaineer. A genuine slice of Appalachia!
- Virginia Tech HokieBird.
- Villanova's Will D. Cat. The "D" must stand for "Disappointing."
- Bucknell Bison. Should have been a local favorite but moved less than Drew Bledsoe.
Still no Buffalo Braves banner hanging in the KeyBank Center rafters.
I understand the Braves never played in this actual arena. But neither did the 1975 Adams Division champions.
We good here?
All in a all, a solid start to Buffalo's subregional.
The best game was the last game. No. 8 Wisconsin outlasted No. 9 Virginia Tech in a spirited nightcap that wasn't safe until the final 30 seconds.
No. 12 Princeton gave No. 5 Notre Dame a classic March Madness scare in the opening game, but No. 13 Bucknell's inability to take advantage of late opportunities against No. 4 West Virginia turned that game into a dud.
Mount St. Mary's let us keep imagining a historic upset a little past halftime before Villanova powered through, but The Mount has nothing to be ashamed of.